Visitors from all around the globe flock to the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast in Western Australia’s Northwest to experience the pristine beaches, diverse landscapes and famous bio-diverse reef.
Unique experiences abound in the region; from swimming with the biggest fish in the world, to witnessing turtle hatchings right from the beach, it’s just another day in Ningaloo!
Getting to the Ningaloo region takes some effort. At 1,250 kilometres from Perth to the hub town of Exmouth, plenty of preparation is needed for a self-drive journey. Alternatively, you can fly to Exmouth and hire a vehicle locally. An overland tour from Perth is also a good way to go.
Here are ten of the best things to do on the Ningaloo Coast.
When was the last time you switched off and did nothing? Well, if there was ever a place to do exactly that, it’s here in Ningaloo. This destination does literally feel like a million miles from anywhere, and it won’t take long before the stress of city life just ebbs away with the tide.
The beach is, of course, one of the best places in the world to do nothing, and you’re spoilt for choice in that department on the Ningaloo Coast. Town Beach is a fairly standard option, but it’s close to Exmouth and offers sheltered swimming conditions and amenities like BBQs and picnic tables. Bundegi Beach is located an easy drive north of Exmouth and is popular with families (although watch the currents). The Ningaloo Marine Park officially begins here.
Over in the Cape Range National Park, you get what’s written on the tin at famous Turquoise Bay. More on that in a moment. Down in stunning Coral Bay (90 minutes’ drive south of Exmouth), visit Bill’s Bay for great coral snorkelling opportunities just metres from the shoreline. If you don’t have your own gear, call into Exmouth Surf Centre to hire everything you need.
Scientists still don’t truly understand why whale sharks migrate. Whether it be for food, for breeding, or some other reason, the whale shark story remains largely a mystery. One thing we do know is that annually from March, whale sharks make their way to the Ningaloo Marine Park and stick around for several months. During that time, it’s actually possible to swim with these incredible animals. Ningaloo Whale Shark Swim provides this highly specialised tour. Utilising their spotter plane, they expedite search times — leaving you more time in the water with the incredible giants of the sea.
Seize a special moment in time and watch countless baby sea turtles leave their nests and head down the beach to the water for the very first time. Seeing this natural marvel is a true privilege — and a reality for visitors to the Ningaloo Coast during the hotter months. The chance of seeing hatchlings increases in February and March. Human activity can severely impact nesting behaviour of marine turtles and success of hatchlings survival. Seek guidance from local experts that promote sustainable tourism practices in the area. The Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions’ Turtle Watching Code of Conduct is a good place to start. The best chance of viewing nesting turtles and hatchlings is by joining a turtle eco-education tour at the Jurabi Turtle Centre.
Catching rays on the beach is the name of the game for many visitors to Ningaloo. Catching up with them in the water is another option! Coral Bay Eco Tour’s Marine Eco Safari will introduce you to one of the largest winged creatures in the ocean. With a wingspan stretching up to eight metres, it’s spectacular to watch a manta gliding noiselessly through the ocean. Mantas are playful and curious creatures that love to interact with swimmers. There are some resident mantas in Coral Bay (with their own names!) that frequently visit guests in the water. Dolphins, dugongs, turtles, and even reef sharks have been known to drop by as well.
As spectacular as they are, whale sharks and mantas don’t get all the attention from aquatic adventure seekers in Ningaloo; these days you can also swim with humpback whales! Humpbacks gather in the Exmouth Gulf from July to November to rest before continuing their great migration south (sometimes accompanied by their new young). You can often spot them from the shoreline at Bundegi Beach, Town Beach, Pebble Beach and the Vlamingh Head lookout — or get a whole lot closer to the action on a humpback swim. Live Ningaloo was one of the first tour operators to be given a licence to offer humpback swimming experiences in the region in 2019. The trial was successful and the whale swims are back. Live Ningaloo follows best and safest practice to ensure guests enjoy the experience of a lifetime.
Located in the Cape Range National Park, just shy of an hour’s drive south of Exmouth, you will find a protected oasis of extraordinary natural beauty. The contrast of unblemished white sand and vivid blue water at Turquoise Bay is so picturesque that the scene could be mistaken for being a photoshopped postcard! Snorkelling at high tide is recommended as the coral reef is very close to the surface of the water and you risk scratching yourself at lower tide levels.
If you’re not a confident swimmer, there’s another option for exploring the Ningaloo Reef. There are two types of coral viewing boat cruises that depart from Coral Bay. The Sub Sea Explorer has a 360-degree transparent viewing space that sits under the water’s surface. It provides an almost cinematic experience and is as immersive (literally) as you can get without actually getting wet.
Alternatively, Coral Bay Eco Tours operates a standard commercial glass bottom boat, which allows you to see all that lies beneath. Because this boat has a flatter hull, it can access most parts of the reef. Both boats have unique benefits; make a choice depending on your needs.
The reef might be the star of the show, but no visit to the Ningaloo Coast is complete without a hike through Cape Range National Park. Situated on the western side of the North West Cape, the park is a 45-minute drive from Exmouth along Yardie Creek Road. Hike overlooking sweeping limestone-walled canyons and admire the many hundreds of endemic species of flowering plants. Do the relatively easy 1.25-kilometre Yardie Creek Nature Trail, or to be truly at one with nature, the onward 750-metre Yardie Gorge Trail (which requires a higher fitness level). Neither walk should be attempted in summer. You can also take a boat tour along Yardie Creek to learn about local Indigenous culture and heritage, and try your luck at spotting sea eagles or osprey.
For many of us, it wouldn’t be a coastal holiday without tucking into a quintessential Aussie meat pie at least once! Coral Resort Bakery in Coral Bay is renowned for baking the best pastries in the region and you’ll rarely find the place empty. Pick up everything from sweet jam doughnuts to fresh salad rolls.
At the other end of the flake-fest spectrum, try the plant-based baked treats at The Social Society in Exmouth. SoSo’s vegan and vegetarian menu includes Paleo, gluten free, and raw options. Whether it’s showcasing local art, selling pre-loved clothing, or providing a play area for the little ones, community is at the forefront of everything they do here. And the coffee is sensational to boot!
With their aggressive reds and oranges, subtle pinks, and cooler purples, sunsets in Ningaloo are breathtaking. Even in a region with such abundant natural beauty, there’s something extra special about this moment at the end of the day, and there are myriad ways to enjoy it. Coral Bay Tours offers a two-hour sunset quad bike tour, which will take you for a cruise along the beach to a special vantage point to watch the sun sink behind the Ningaloo Marine Park. Sunset snorkel packages are also offered, allowing you to see marine life that is most active at this time of the day — and at a location well off the regular tourist trail.
Top the day off with a milkshake from the acclaimed Reef Café.
For more information, please visit www.visitningaloo.com.au.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do on the Ningaloo Coast? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia. Additional images: Bigstock
Michelle Thomas is a Perth-based writer who loves to pen prose about all things travel and lifestyle. When she’s not running her freelance writing business, Michelle spends her time patting dogs, eating burritos and planning her next travel adventure.